The McKee Brothers
A Time Like This
In this writer’s radio days, a frequent caller often said, “You can never have too many horns.” It is not only the horn charts that drew me to this record, but repeated listens revealed some good songwriting, strong vocals on every track, and fond memories of their debut album, 2016’s Enjoy It While You Can. Denis McKee, a multi-instrumentalist, is the leader and producer, now residing in California and originally from Michigan. Keyboardist and principal songwriter Bobby West returns, as does guitarist Larry McCray and slide guitarist Stan Budzynski. A Time Like This, their third album, involves only about half of the two dozen musicians that graced their debut, but we still have two stellar horn players in returning trumpeter Lee Thornburg (Tower of Power) and multi-reedist Doug Webb (Stanley Clarke, Freddie Hubbard, and countless others). Note, on these pages we covered Webb’s most recent jazz effort on Positone, Apples and Oranges, released just last month.
McKee, who takes guitar solos on three tracks, tends to favor a potpourri of styles, affixing the same descriptor to only two of the 16 songs with the remainder each bearing such as “Al Green/Sly Stone inspired,” “Trad jazz,” and “Reggae soul power ballad,’ to mention a few. The idea was to focus on something other than the bad news that has been plaguing us in 2020 but among the fun and optimistic songs, there are requisitely contemporary ones too. “It Is What It Is” is not about defeatism but moving on from a situation, that despite one’s best efforts, can’t be changed. It’s a different way of saying that you can still affect the outcome. Others such as “Miracle,” “A Time Like This,” and “Whistleblower Blues” all speak to these times. The others are a combination of irony, sarcasm, fun, and optimism – in essence, a relief from everything else we are going through.
McKee assembled first-rate musicians and a strong vocalist who join those already mentioned in his “share the wealth” approach. McKee is featured on lead vocals, backed by the soulful Maxayn Lewis (Ike & Tina Turner). The rhythm section includes top L.A. musicians Bobby Watson (Rufus/Billy Preston/Michael Jackson), drummers Steve Stephens (Patti Austin/Glen Hughes) and Vincent Foster Jr. (Kirk Fletcher/Janiva Magness). Guitarist Joey Delgado plays on two tracks with harmonicist Tim Douhit on three and percussionist Chris Stevens throughout.
Several tracks stand out, preeminently “Miracle,” punctuated by Webb’s soulful tenor solo, the funky blues-rock of “Whistleblower Blues” with Larry McCray on the lead guitar, the gospel blues of “Realize,” where Denis McKee has the lead guitar as he does on “A Scene from Sunday, ”which has the best ensemble horn parts, and the churning “Rain” where Budzynski delivers his searing slide. Also, let’s give kudos to the swampy “The Legend of Luther Stringfellow” evoking songs from Jerry Reed, Clarence Carter, and Tony Joe White. The shortest track “Bluer Than You” is fine example of early NOLA R&B, with the horns chiming in and Lewis echoing McKee’s lead. These are blues for fans that bask in the variety. Hell, there’s not even one 12-bar blues song here. Instead it’s all mixed up in a good way. Some may argue that The McKee Brothers try to do too many styles, but most would likely agree with this writer that this is their strongest yet.
- Jim Hynes